Firenze per Fortuna, Chianti ed il Castello di Verrazzano
I did not expect a day trip to Chianti for a wine tasting to become a reflective experience as our group rode sleepily through the hills of Tuscany on a large, touristy bus. I had never been to the Chianti region before, so I was, of course, interested to become acquainted with a place that has been revered and praised by many for its beautiful vistas and delectable, authentic ingredients. I was not anticipating the next few hours to be particularly self-reflective, but they definitely ended up surprising me by being just that.
We visited the Castello di Verrazzano, one of the oldest wineries in Tuscany, and we were given a fantastic tour of the grounds by the cellar master, Gino. He gave us a warm welcome with a nonchalant humor that was infectiously Italian, and he told us a great story about how a man named Giovani Verrazzano was born on the grounds. Giovani grew up to be the man after whom the Verrazzano Bridge in New York would be named, and a few bricks from the winery buildings are now located in a tribute statue to Giovani on one of the last exists off of the Verrazzano. As a New Yorker, I found that anecdote really fun and oddly nostalgic.
Gino took us around many of the winery buildings, showing us where each step of wine making occurred. Seeing grapes hanging from the ceiling like large cuts of meat in a butcher’s shop (macelleria) slowly shrinking, loosing water, becoming more concentrated with sugars, along with the huge, circular, wooden containers stained from storing wine for months, really put the process of wine making into perspective. As Gino explained, wine and wine making are things Italians hold very close to their hearts. “The wine is within the grape.”
We tasted four different wines during our lunchtime tasting, our degustazione. Il Rose was the first, a pink wine; then the red Chianti Classico, followed by two other red wines, and we finished off the meal with a dessert wine, VinSanto, with cantucci. It was probably one of the best overall meals I’ve had here, since it was just tasting good wine and eating bits and pieces of garlic bread (made with olive oil made on those grounds as well), salami, proscutto, pecorino cheese, brie, and tomatoes. All ingredients were fresh and everything put together just brought you back to the simpler times when food didn’t have to be fancy or finicky to be considered a delicacy.
It really moved me to see and hear Gino talk about his life passion—wine—and be so candid with us about how important is has been in his life, and to the entire framework of his culture. Many years ago before new-age technology, the most important thing during each day was making it from one meal to the other—breakfast, lunch, dinner. In Italy, wine was made to supplement those meals, to nourish the body when other liquids were scarce, and eventually it became an integral part of Italian culture—something sacred. Gino emphasized the importance of taking responsibility for our wine tasting, because something so sacred as wine should be exactly what the drinker wants to make of it. We were asked to decide for ourselves if we like the wine, and we were told how to drink it in such a way that would help us decide whether or not we liked what we were tasting.
Wine is much more than alcohol, as Gino told us, and it serves to bring people together with happiness, laughter, love, and appreciation, as it has been doing for thousands of years in Italy. It was a really self-reflective trip for me, and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about a specific part of my Italian culture that I wasn’t truly aware of before. I made sure Gino knew that before I left.